The Hamilton Spectator

Four fires in 26 hours spark arson probes

No injuries, but damage extensive in vacant and renovation property blazes


Hamilton police investigat­ors are probing four fires that caused extensive damage to vacant or under-constructi­on properties in just over 24 hours.

No one was hurt in any of the fires, three of which were multiple-alarm blazes, drawing Hamilton firefighti­ng resources from across the city.

Const. Indy Bharaj from the Hamilton police said there is evidence in at least two of the investigat­ions that people were “squatting” in the properties. However, the causes of all the fires remain under investigat­ion.

The Office of the Fire Marshal was also contacted in each case, but is not investigat­ing.

The first fire occurred at a vacant property on Sherman Avenue North, at Burlington Street East, shortly before 9 p.m. on Sunday.

Emergency services were then called to 577 Barton St. E. around 4:30 a.m. on Monday. Firefighte­rs found heavy fire in a three-storey, under-constructi­on apartment building. The fire appears to have begun on the third floor, spreading to the second floor, attic and roof.

Chief Dave Cunliffe said crews from the Hamilton Fire Department worked to bring the fire under control in about 30 minutes, but the damage was extensive.

Bharaj said the investigat­ion has revealed evidence of squatting in the building, which did not have hydro connected.

While firefighte­rs were still at the Barton fire, around 9 a.m., the fire department was called to another multiple-alarm fire at a vacant property. This one was at 33 Hess St. S., the former Hush Night Club in Hess Village, where arriving crews found “heavy fire” on the second and third floors of the building.

Damage is estimated at around $1 million. Bharaj said there is also evidence of squatting at this property.

Then around 10:20 p.m. on Monday, firefighte­rs were called to its third multipleal­arm blaze of the day at an under-constructi­on, multi-unit residentia­l building at 254 Dundurn St. S. at Charlton.

There are many reasons why vacant buildings, often in disrepair, ignite. But “when people are trying to keep warm, you see fires happen,” said Don Seymour, Wesley Urban Ministries’ executive director.

“When you’re cold ... your ability to think rationally isn’t always in place,” he said.

With an expected wind chill of -20 C Tuesday night, Hamilton’s medical officer of health issued a cold weather alert, which means some libraries and recreation centres will open to those needing to get out of the cold during business hours.

But Seymour said warming centres and shelters can’t always accommodat­e everyone who needs them.

“People are taking shelter wherever they can, whether it’s in a tent or a vacant building or a doorway,” he said. “Winter is when it becomes a crisis.”

There have been at least three additional fires in vacant buildings, all alleged to have been used by squatters, in just over six months between July and January.

A person was issued two provincial offence notices under the Trespass to Property Act in a July 6 fire at 2399 Barton St. E., near Centennial Parkway North. The building, abandoned for many years, had “ongoing issues involving trespasser­s and transient persons,” police say.

A 20-year-old man killed in a Westdale house fire on Sept. 28 was “believed to be squatting” on the vacant property at 109 Traymore Ave.

On Jan. 11, a fire caused significan­t damage to two Ottawa Street North buildings. Residents said the No. 47 Ottawa house, where the fire started before spreading to No. 45, was known for squatters.

Seymour said government­s need to “develop the political will” to address the crisis. More rent-geared-to-income housing and addiction and mentalheal­th supports are needed, he said.

 ?? JOHN RENNISON THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR ?? A firefighte­r pours water on a blaze in Hess Village on Monday — one of three multiple-alarm fires across the city that day.
JOHN RENNISON THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR A firefighte­r pours water on a blaze in Hess Village on Monday — one of three multiple-alarm fires across the city that day.

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